What My Dad Taught Me About Being a Father

What My Dad Taught Me About Being a Father

Today’s article is by my son, Paul Perkins.

Since my wife and I welcomed our daughter into the world two months ago, I’ve thought a lot about what it means to be a great dad. Mostly I’m excited about this new role and what it entails. I like the idea of providing and protecting and instructing—not simply a new person, but a little girl that Hilary and I formed out of our love.

It’s a lot of responsibility, no doubt. But I look forward to it.

At times, though, the idea of fatherhood feels overwhelming.The fact is, I’ve never been a father. Although I’ve read books about fatherhood, there’s only so much anyone can learn by reading. Fatherhood, it seems, is like learning to swim in the middle of the ocean.

In those moments I feel overwhelmed, I remind myself of one thing: I had a great dad, and if I simply imitate him, I’ll be a great dad too. And honestly, it helps. Fatherhood no longer feels overwhelming.

How, you may wonder, was my father such a great dad? Here are three reasons—and three things I hope to practice as I become a father.

Great Dads Are Fun

There’s a home video of me as a child. I’m probably seven or eight, and my dad’s interviewing me. I’m sort-of engaging with him, but I’m also acting silly—rolling around on the floor, making goofy faces, laughing a lot. It’s the picture of a joyful child.

At one point my dad asks something like, “What do you like most about your dad?”

I look up at the camera and smile bashfully. “You wrestle with me.”

Looking back at my childhood, I cannot tell you the number of fond memories I have playing with my dad. My favorite game was called “the tickle monster.” I’d lay on the floor and my dad, kneeling over me, would buzz his hand around me like a fly while I tried to kick it. Sometimes I’d connect, and his hand would sputter a bit then splatter on the floor. Other times his hand would dodge my flailing feet and he’d engulf me in a flurry of tickles.

I loved it—not just because it was a lot of fun, but because it demonstrated my dad’s love. He gave me his time and energy. He showed me how to have a good time and enjoy life. He taught me it’s okay to be silly sometimes. It’s okay to have fun.

Great Dads Discipline

My dad was fun, but he wasn’t just fun. He was also a bit scary—not in a fearful, terror-inducing sort of way. I never once thought he would hurt me or anything like that. My dad was scary in the sense that he endeared respect. I admired him more than anyone in the world, and I knew if I didn’t listen and obey him, I’d get in trouble.

Later in the home video I mentioned earlier, my dad asks one of my older brothers a question. Instead of letting him answer, though, I get in the way of the camera and start talking. A moment later, there’s a sound off screen—immediately my face drops and I get out of my brother’s way.

What happened? My dad snapped his fingers.

Growing up, my dad disciplined me. Again, not out of anger or rage, but calmly and firmly. If I disobeyed or lied or violated a rule, without fail he would sit me down, explain what I’d done, ask me to apologize, and then he would spank me on the bottom with a plastic dowel (the straight part of a hanger). It always hurt, but never once did it leave anything more than a fading pink mark. No bruising, no breaking of skin, no pounding pain. Nothing abusive.

Then, after I received a spanking, my dad would pray with me and then wrap me in his arms.

I didn’t get spanked a lot growing up. But enough times I knew to obey him—even with the snap of a finger. Now, looking back, I’m thankful for my dad’s discipline. It taught me how to behave and the all-important lesson that there are consequences to actions.

Great Dads Connect

Between the two extremes of fun and discipline, there’s a wide range for dads to connect with their kids. Talking and expressing physical affection. Doing activities and playing sports. Going on trips and hanging out. That’s how great dads connect with their kids—it’s how they build lasting and substantive relationships.

That was certainly true of my dad. I can’t list the number of ways in which he connected with me, but here are several examples.

Every night growing up, my mom and dad tucked me into bed and prayed with me. Other times, when I was upset—probably from my brothers’ picking on me—my dad rubbed my back and told me everything would be okay. Instantly I felt soothed.

For years my dad coached my soccer team. As I grew older, my dad and I occasionally sat outside on our porch at night and, looking up at the vast stars overhead, I asked my deepest questions and we talked about God. Every Sunday between the ages of 14 and 18, I rode to church with my dad. Interestingly, he always let me listen to my music, and often we talked about the song’s lyrics and tried to interpret their meaning.

One time when I was fourteen he and I took a trip to New Mexico, where he grew up. We camped out at Bottomless Lakes and explored the UFO Museum in Roswell. Later, the summer before my senior year of high school, he and I took a trip to California and went to two R.E.M. concerts. While in college, we went on a scuba diving trip to Bonaire.

There’s more, of course—so much more. The point is, my dad was always actively involved in my life—from the moment I entered the world to this very day. As a result, we had (and continue to have) a real relationship. We actually like each other and care about each other. We always have.

I didn’t just love my dad because he was my dad; I loved him because he so clearly demonstrated his love toward me.

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That’s why, as I step into fatherhood, I’m not too worried. Because I had a great dad. And I know if I simply follow his example, I’ll be a great dad too. I can only hope my daughter will love and respect and admire me as much as I loved and respected and admired my dad.

Paul Perkins is an attorney and former White House staffer. He lives in Washington, DC with his wife and daughter. Read more of his writing at PaulPerkins.com.

 

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